Philadelphians spend an inordinate amount of time on two things this postseason when compared to other regional fan bases. One, of course, is watching their team.
They also find themselves digging around for local carpenters.
And not just the Carpenters who owned the team for decades. Wooden household items are taking a flogging, and the carpentry business is booming.
Everyone and their mothers know Phillies closer Brad Lidge has not blown a save all season. But while Phils fans collectively knock on wood, make the Signum Crucis, or toss salt behind them as Joe Buck and Tim McCarver continue to berate the point, the rest of the Philadelphia bullpen has been sharp as—well, a carpenter’s tool.
In fact, the red-pinstriped novel of the 2008 season exhilarates readers in the buildup of the seventh and eighth innings just as well as in the climax and denouement of Lidge, so has argued battle-tested reliever J.C. Romero.
Phils skipper Charlie Manuel—known for his high expectations of pitchers, he once opined in a 2007 press conference that he anticipates staff ace Cole Hamels to “throw good, and by good I mean, you know, like perfect game”—uses Romero largely in an eighth-inning set-up role.
One of the more experienced postseason players on a Phillies team yearning for playoff veterans, Romero enters his first World Series having pitched in 19 playoff games, more than the Yankees’ Derek Jeter has watched on television. His vast experience helps lead the Phils, only one of whom has ever won a world championship.
Outfielder So Taguchi owns the sole ring, and Lidge, bullpen mate Scott Eyre, and infielder Pedro Feliz join Taguchi as the only Phils to have earned trips to the Fall Classic.
The left-hander reached three consecutive postseasons with the Minnesota Twins early this decade, and, save a 2002 ALCS outing in which he allowed five runs in two innings, has proven stalwart in the playoffs.
For the Phillies Romero’s numbers have been even better. Lefties hit under .110 against Romero over the regular season, and in 2.2 innings this postseason he has yet to give up a run or hit.
(Hear that noise in the distance? More knocking on wood in Philadelphia.)
His walks—38 in 59 innings this season, already three in the Milwaukee and Los Angeles series—and career turns have caused Romero’s confidence to waver but never to falter completely. Boston released him in early 2007, yet he found an immediate home eight hours down Interstate 95 and became a major factor in the Phils’ first division title in 14 years.
“I’ll tell you something,” he said of that season’s ERA dramatically plummeting from 3.15 for the Red Sox to a minuscule 1.24 in Philadelphia, “number-wise, you’re surprised when you have that type of success. But as far as my stuff, I knew my stuff was there. I deeply felt I was going to help the team somehow, but I didn’t think I would create that much difference.”
Romero and Lidge worry opposing hitters much more than Phils fans, whose previous closers have included such World Series goats as Mitch Williams (of Joe Carter fame) and Jose Mesa (of Omar Vizquel fame).
“When Lidge is healthy, you know he can provide some help,” Romero predicted at the 2008 season’s outset, in what in hindsight has become a morsel of rhetorical understatement.
At any rate, the rate at which FOX broadcasters and graphics designers mention Lidge’s unblemished save record shows no signs of letting up. There stands to be a good deal of wood-knocking and praying going down in Philadelphia this week. Carpenters in the Delaware Valley—all of them, darn it all, including the old owners, and the Jewish one—man your battle stations.